Most of us are familiar with the story of King Solomon and the two women both claiming the infant was her child. He skillfully determined that the real mother would be willing to make a sacrifice. So King Solomon in his wisdom, ordered the guard to cut the infant in half. Of course the mother immediately begged the King to give her child to the other woman. She was rewarded by being reunited with her infant son.
This story has been used to help divorcing parents understand what it really means to be “child focused” versus “self-focused” or focused on “winning”. However, King Solomon’s wisdom does not end here.
King Solomon has a treasury of wisdom about the dangers of our tongue and how destructive communication style can become. First, we should recognize how difficult it is to restrain yourself from making a comment when emotionally charged. It is difficult to bite your tongue with people you love, so it is obviously far more difficult to use impulse control with someone you may not care about.
There are so many ways in which we can make communication matters worse by using critical comments, giving half-truths, complaining, manipulating, exaggerating, playing tit-for tat or simply by being judgmental. The following ten tips are backed up by the wisdom of King Solomon as found in the Book Proverbs.
- Practice Impulse Control
When dealing with your co-parent it is easy to get annoyed. As a result, it is very difficult to avoid hasty words. When your child is nearby it is essential that you do not escalate conflict. It is very important to strengthen your control over your tongue or you will surely make matters worse. “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)
- Do No Harm-Try Kindness
Sure people get under your skin and can cause you to feel angry. This can be especially true when dealing with a former spouse. King Solomon’s advice is “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) When we are angry, being kind seems impossible because it feels counter-intuitive. It is difficult when you feel impatient or frustrated by either the actions or inaction of your co-parent. Say your co-parent is 45 minutes late returning your child. How much self-control does it take to resist throwing this in their face? We can feel justified in our anger and let it show. Obviously impulse control and using kindness especially when angry has been an ongoing problem for thousands of years. Solomon states, “Open your mouth with wisdom, and on your tongue is the law of kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26) Remember that harsh words never die. “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32) The control is takes to be kind when angry speaks to our character.
- Don’t Talk Badly About Your Co-parent
Co-parents recognize that if they put their child’s other parent down, while in ear-shot, then they are insulting their child’s self-esteem. However gossiping with other adults is another way in which we get into trouble. Gossip is so temping and is often done to make ourselves look better while it really speaks negatively about ourselves. According to the communication expert, Deborah Smith Pegues, gossip is similar to slander. “Slanderers make malicious, false or even true statements about others with the intent of damaging their reputation, character or good name.” Sometimes the gossip is an attempt to boast about ourselves. King Solomon had much to say about gossip, “To hide hatred is to be a liar; but to slander is to be a fool.” (Proverbs 10:18) and “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:8) Engaging in the personal affairs of your co-parent or their significant other’s life may feel like a choice morsel but restrain yourself.
- Try Listening Rather than Speaking
King Solomon says that the more words we use, the more likely we will get into trouble. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19) Imagine if we could learn to just listen instead of speaking how much better our communication would be. We also need to listen without thinking about our response. So just stop talking and try something that shows you are not going to react. For example, your co-parent is giving you a hard time about your child’s soccer schedule. Instead of defending yourself with comments like “You agreed to let me sign him up!” or “Why can’t you just be a supportive father and stop complaining!” let him complain without a single word from you. When he stops reflect back what you heard, “So his soccer schedule is creating a problem at your home because your step-children have activities on the same day.” Or after you demonstrate silence ask an open ended question such as, “So what do you think we need to do about this?
The more you say the greater likelihood that you will only fuel conflict. The more you say, the easier it will be to offend your co-parent. King Solomon says it well, “He who answers before listening-that is his folly and his shame.”
- Avoid an Argument
Divisive people destroy unity and argumentative people enjoy resisting anyone else’s point of view. Solomon states “Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor; only fools insist on quarreling” (Proverbs 20:3) Often we make the mistake of insisting upon having the last word! This just fuels the conflict. Even the famous Will Rogers said, “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument. You will not bring about change by picking fights or being argumentative.” Give up the fantasy that your words will cause your co-parent to suddenly “get it.” Remember that insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.
King Solomon said, “Beginning a quarrel is like opening a floodgate, so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.” (Proverbs 17:14) Avoiding a quarrel requires both impulse control and silence. Avoid starting conversations with your co-parent if they tend to be argumentative. Ask them to email you instead or simply say, “OK, that is your opinion.
- Let the Moment Pass
Along this same line of thinking, knowing when to keep your mouth shut requires discretion, impulse control and maturity. Remember some topics are off limits with your co-parent and some topics are way too hot to handle. Solomon states, “Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” (Proverbs 2:11) So for example, your co-parent mentions he has another new partner, just breathe and let the moment pass.
- Don’t Look for Ways to Boast
According to King Solomon, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” Co-parents often try to one-up each other which is not a mature reaction. Don’t go out of your way to share information to boast about your parenting, co-parenting or any other matter with your co-parent unless you are willing to pay the price of increased tension or jealousy.
- Avoid Sounding Like A Know-it-All
We should all refrain from giving unsolicited advice to anyone but especially to your co-parent. Common examples of giving advice typically start with “You should have………” So-called knowledge is only heard as boasting or being judgemental. Solomon states that “A prudent man conceals knowledge.” (Proverbs 12:23) Even when you know what needs to be said or done, there are times when it may be wise to say nothing. Solomon also said, “Wise people do not make a show of their knowledge.” (Proverbs 12:23) Sharing unsolicited advice is experienced by many as arrogant and critical. Instead resist the temptation and let your co-parent share what they know first.
- Find the Right Time to Speak
The old proverb that silence is golden is actually only half the proverb. “Speech is silver, and silence is golden.” Knowing when to be silent is just as important as knowing when to communicate and to do so effectively. It is not golden if you allow gossip, of if you do not defend someone. It is not golden if you avoid communicating altogether or if you need to set appropriate boundaries.
- Guard Your Mouth
These ten tips are obviously all linked to guarding our mouths. King Solomon states that “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” (Proverbs 13:3) It is amazing that poor impulse control has been a challenge for humans since the beginning of time. Consider the age old advice we often give our children, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Apparently we all need to heed this simple advice and model it for our children.
Instead of making matters worse with our words and actions consider the value (and surprise) of apologizing when you are wrong, learn to express gratitude for the things that your co-parent does well, give them credit for their achievements, ask them for help, offer to assist, communicate expectations, give a sincere compliment, express appreciation, and for heaven sake say “please and thank you!”